Ah, wafty carriers that doesn’t only favour the wealthy, but for those who are in the market with a spare change of RM400,000 with another kid coming up their way. Yes, both the Toyota Alphard and Vellfire have been massive sales successes for the gleaming Japanese marque, and it looks like UMW Toyota has had enough of the grey importers by stealing the limelight.
Words Keegan Dorai
Photography Keegan Dorai, Heirul MK and Bobby Ang
he Americans loathe it, well not all of them in some extent but if you’re seen driving in one, the old man across the street would probably laugh at you for losing your glitzy bachelorhood to an overzealously-controlling wife. That’s a common perception today if you’re driving a minivan, and you can't help it. What can you do about that? Will you turn all important priorities down and go buy a Porsche Cayman to relieve the glorious days of being single and available?
But you see, that’ll cost you your marriage. She could just pack up, leave you and take the kids along and find another man with a sensible mind that drives a shining new Alphard. Or a Vellfire in this case. People (not only women) do actually like it. Heck, I don’t need to explain further why it appeals so much. Could it be the image that portrays you as a well-prepared family guy? Or a keeper in the long term?
Probably, but I might be wrong. I don’t really like the idea of being branded as such. Even today as I drive around with my Volvo V50, people do assume that I am a dad, or either a spoiled young brat being offered his parent’s car to go around. But nope, sod that. I love practical cars, and they’re so appealing that it makes so much sense to actually own one.
This is why both the Alphard and Vellfire are selling in thousands, all because practicality matters the most. And coming from a person that prefers a liveable bootspace over sporty adaptive suspensions, I do see the similar attraction. Both of them are just so well-rounded that even Hong Kong tycoons are trading their S-class’ in just for the sake of better accommodation while being driven across the border to Shenzhen to do business.
Initially a JDM-only special, the Alphard and Vellfire are now growing in popularity outside of the Land of the Rising Sun. They instantly became the bread and butter for all locally-based grey importers. And they’re not that cheap either. An unadorned, pre-registered example right off your unofficial dealer would set you back close to RM300,000 for one.
Nonetheless, people still went in droves to buy one. They’re practically everywhere on the roads and even in some ditches along the Karak stretch. Yes, they don’t handle that well, and the suspensions fitted in are so soft that it feels even more loftier than a pillow. Try braking at a creeping speed of 20km/h. It nosedives and bounces back up like a nodding dog.
The appeal here is to appreciate its smooth ride quality and not drive it like your pants are on fire. If you crave for a sublime comfort over pothole-ridden surfaces, then both the Alphard and Vellfire will excel all of those with flying colours. Steering feel? Well it steers but yeah, it steers towards your favoured direction and that’s pretty much all. The only competitor worth highlighting, in this case — with slight better handling finesse — is the raspy-sounding, Fairlady-powered Nissan Elgrand.
Its character belies much better on the inside. Being a luxury MPV that promises a grandeur ambience, you can travel with much ease. The seats are so supple that it makes you feel like you’re traversing in your own private jet. Except that its not flying in the air, and it comes with four wheels at each corner. What a great way to get you to the nearest favourite hawker stall joint for a nice bowl of curry laksa.
Do rest assured on its safety credentials as well as both the Alphard and Vellfire boasts seven airbags, stability and traction control. Handy for those with a growing family. How about the elderly and bossman? They will definitely enjoy the electronically-operated and succulent Ottoman seats in the Alphard.
Carrying more cargo than passengers? The third row seats can be folded away to increase rear boot space. Panoramic sunroof? Checked. Cubby spaces? Checked. There are so many features included in that I could go on explaining till Christmas.
'They instantly became the bread and butter for all locally-based grey importers.'
'The seats are so supple that it makes you feel like you’re traversing in your own private jet.'
Additional passengers will enjoy the generous third-row accommodation in this case, too. Be it kids, portly mates or the fussy guys from WhatCar, they will be fine seated behind. Another piece of highlight in the Vellfire in this part would be its engine stop-start system, which is included in the 2.5-litre motor. So yes, you can still save some moolah from fuel costs after buying one and take the brady bunch for a round of shopping.
The Alphard on the other hand, uses a behemoth 3.5-litre V6 that is paired to a six-speed automatic. Being the ‘opulent’ looking derivative of the lot, it exchanged the Vellfire’s black-hued interior for a shade of beige and walnut in favour over dark wood. Differences on the outside? Almost nil — spare for the Transformer-like grille and larger headlamps found on the Alphard, and a sleeker fascia with slimmer lights for the Vellfire.
Performance-wise, the Alphard feels like an Eastern Oriental Express coach that chugs away in sweet grace. The Vellfire feels sprightly, but quite irritating and riotous at high revs due to its CVT transmission. I would say it’s adequate for the latter, and mildly engaging. I don’t know why but I like the idea of pushing a minivan a little further just to see how good it is. Maybe its one of those odd affections in life; like the urge of punching a hole on a rice bag.
All in all, both the Alphard and Vellfire are exemplary family haulers with a twist of luxury motoring. Just bear in mind that behind this attractive facade hides an uninspiring drive and wallowy dynamics that is made even worse due to its sheer size and uneven weight distribution. Yes, outward visibility is good, but try parking it at some older basements and you will find that its a smidgen too big.
But as mentioned earlier to supplement your mid-life crisis, get the Alphard and picture it as a Lotus Evora without a diet plan. Or get the ‘youthful’ Vellfire if your wife has a penchant for liking glitzy bars at Trec and clubs where most patronisers are in their late 20s to early 30s. Just so you don’t look like a driver or a retired school principal for the sake of blending in. Best of all, you can get them both right now as official units from Toyota Malaysia itself.
Engine V6, 3456cc, petrol
Power 269bhp at 6200rpm
Torque 340Nm at 4700rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Engine inline-4, 2493cc, petrol
Power 178bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 235Nm at 4100rpm
'All in all, both the Alphard and Vellfire are exemplary family haulers with a twist of luxury motoring.'